Ski Season Prep: Pandemic Edition - February Update



Written by Laura Nasca, Graphic Designer

We're a few months (holy hell) into the ski season, and things really feel like they're on the up and up. The travel ban has been lifted and snow is finally falling in Tahoe. The excitement is palpable from where I sit in Truckee, looking up maybe too often from my desk to admire the sparkling white coat on the ground. 


However, the pandemic rages on. As I wrote at the beginning of the ski season, I can’t tell you whether the resorts are going to be able to stay open, or if it’s going to be a good snow year, or if traveling to ski is a smart idea right now. What I can tell you is how to best prepare for whatever this snow season throws at us.

 

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SKIING IS KIND OF THE PERFECT, COVID-SAFE ACTIVITY

First of all, you get to be outside which is awesome and full of lovely fresh air. Plus you’ll already be rocking the Personal Protective Equipment including helmet, goggles, a face covering, and gloves. Please mask up whenever you’re near other people, and check out resort-specific guidelines about lift, bathroom, and other communal space usage. Many resorts are implementing rules about who can be on the chairlift or gondola together, and reducing or removing inside activities. Some mountains have reservation systems in place for lift tickets and even parking, most ticket windows are closed, Tahoe and the Bay Area are currently under Shelter in Place orders... Long story short, do your research on the particular resort you hope to visit before showing up. When you do get to the mountain, you might not get to hang out in the lodge any more but it’s the best way to keep you and others safe. Aprés outside is always better anyways. 


Speaking of space, your skis or snowboard give you a built-in divider between you and other humans (bonus points if you have long poles to keep people and their germs away). You don’t want to be skiing or riding near other people anyway (#nofriendsonapowderday). Time to go learn how fun glades are, or race away from others on the groomers.

 

PLAN AHEAD AND PREPARE

Wait isn’t that a principle of Leave No Trace? YES! Those are our commandments for the outdoors no matter the season or sport. Ways you can prepare this winter and lessen your impact (on both the resorts and the environment) include: 

Get a pass. You can support your local mountain (often the cheaper option!) Unfortunately at this point, collective pass sales have ended, but you can see who in the pod has those sweet sweet Buddy Passes.

• Lease gear and apparel for the whole family. Especially if you’ve got growing kids or want to try-before-you-buy, renting is an awesome option for gearing up for the season. If you think you’ll rent more than a couple times, season leases save you money and unnecessary trips to the store, and gives you the flexibility to head up whenever you feel like it. At the same time, if you want to try a few different skis, say from our premium ski fleet, or if you’ve got growing kids, leasing is great because you can always swap out skis/boards/apparel for a different size or style. This is especially awesome for kids who might outgrow their equipment over the course of the season, or level up their skills and want something more aggressive to rip up the mountain.
If you prefer the economic breakdown, you would need to ski the equivalent of 4 weekends to make a kids' or adult season lease more affordable than renting weekend by weekend.
• Keep an eye on weather. If a storm is coming in and conditions could look dicey, skip the drive! One of the coolest parts about living in California is the season-less ability to partake in all kinds of activities, even in winter. The desert is a lovely place to be in the middle of the winter.

 Pack that PPE and get some hand sanitizer. You should already have some in your car, purse, backpack, ski bag, ski jackets, and ski pants (you don't need a bottle in all of those spots but hey, you do you).
• Make a contingency plan. It will be harder to score a last minute pow day with reservation systems in place and priority for pass holders, but it's important to follow the rules and stay safe. If you don’t have a reservation for the day (if one's required), and you don’t know what you’re doing in the backcountry, it might be a great day to go sledding, build a snowman, go for a hike or partake in any other outdoor activity instead.
 Parking is proving to be an issue, so if you want to guarantee your day on the mountain try to get there early. Especially with the excitement of recent storms, coupled with a lack of public transportation and carpooling due to the pandemic, parking has been a hot and limited commodity.
• Stay local(ish). The safest option with the pandemic is to stick to your local mountain(s), and drive up and back in one go. This is not always practical and certainly not the most fun option in many cases. But where should we stay? Rental companies like AirBnB and VRBO have upped their cleaning standards and are encouraging hosts to clean extra in between guests and leave spaces vacant for a time to allow them to air out. Check on your intended rental to make sure they’re following cleaning guidelines and being safe and that they are still open when you go to cash in on your reservation.

Other options? Many people are turning to van life right now, casually or as a lifestyle. If you go this route, make sure your space is insulated and ventilated, park in legal overnight spots, and never use your camp stove inside. Bad! I’ve seen people ski-bumming with everything from a Sprinter to a Prius (that was a wild man), and you can build a platform bed for pretty cheap.

• Another option is to (safely and legally) winter camp! Winter camping is actually really fun and way better than camping in the rain. Ever heard of an igloo, a quinzhee hut, or (ahem) a 4-season rental tent from Sporty B? Check 'em out. Snow is, oddly, a really solid form of insulation. Pairs well with cross country skis. 

A NOTE ABOUT BACKCOUNTRY SKIING, SNOWBOARDING, & SNOWSHOEING 

• If you’re tempted to get into the backcountry, make sure you prepare by taking an avalanche preparedness course and always carry a shovel, beacon and probe plus at least one friend who also has a shovel, beacon and probe. Groups of 3+ people are optimal for group safety. Just keep it in the pod, please.

• Fun fact: snowshoers are often more likely to cause avalanches because of a tendency to a) not be as prepared because it seems like such a benign activity, and b) walking straight across a face thereby displacing a sheet of ice and snow. That being said, snowshoe backpacking (or better yet cross country ski-packing) is rad and gives you some amazing access opportunities.

 

PREPARE YOUR CAR, TOO

CalTrans, and your favorite local gear shop (us), have some recommendation on how to outfit your car for the snow. Here's some things you should always carry in your car when heading up to the snow: 

• Tire chains and tighteners. Once you've put them on once, they seem much less intimidating. Remember: YouTube tutorials are your friend! And you don't want to be shelling out to buy chains on the side of the road.

• Extra gloves. While you're scrabbling around in the dirty, potentially wet snow on the side of the road, it really pays off to have a pair of gloves for putting on chains. Don't ruin your next day at the mountain by soaking your only pair.
• 
Ice Scraper and Shovel. My ice scraper lives in my Subaru (yes, I'm from Vermont originally) all year round. I love the ones with the scraper-and-brush combo so you can wipe away the excess snow as you go. Powder doesn't limit itself to falling on the slopes.
If you're going to skip on something, I'd say the shovel is just a nice to have. But if you do have it, prepare to make some friends during parking lot après.
• Food and water. Listen, they shut down 80 all the time; bring snacks. Regardless, the drive to Tahoe is going to take a minimum of 3 hours, so you'll want food on hand, maybe even some sandwiches. Or make the passenger driver hand feed you charcuterie.
Also, this is a great time to get an insulated water bottle, or repurpose your coffee thermos. Double walled bottles keep liquids from freezing just as much as they keep hot drinks hot!
• Snow boots. I can't emphasize enough how nice it is to have warm, insulated snow boots for tromping around. This learned after many a day of puddle dodging in Vans. You can also totally make do with hiking boots or Timberlands.
• PPE. It's COVID times, people. Bring a few masks. Buffs are great for the mountain; double them over to pull over your nose and mouth on the lift, walking through the lodge or parking lot, and when you're going mach 11 down the Siberia face.
CalTrans would also like to remind you to fill up the gas tank (pro tip: Vallejo, Sacramento, and Reno are wayyy cheaper than the Bay), bring extra layers in case something gets wet, and don't lock yourself out of your car while you're installing chains.

Other nice to haves for the car, because resort skiing is the car camping of snow sports. Might as well throw some toys in the mix: 

• Sleds. If you (or the kiddos) are tired of skiing, you want to carry them or your stuff to the hill/hotel, or you want to have some fun on your rest day, sleds are your best friend.

Hand & toe warmers. Good for toasty fingers, and toes!
• Snowball maker. Great for side of the road good times.

• FUNctional fashion: beanies, more gloves, all the warms.

 

THE LIMITATIONS CAN ACTUALLY MAKE FOR A FUNNER (YEAH WE SAID FUNNER) SEASON

• No lodge, no restaurants, no whining, no germs, just skiing and riding. Realistically, this situation just promoted the rules of powder day to the whole entire season.

• Fewer weekend warriors: Everyone who can is working from home, which means they can “work” from Tahoe, which means they can go up any day of the week. Which is good and bad but will likely even out traffic on and to the mountain to a degree.
• Collective pass sales and #vanlife are going strong, which would indicate continued domestic travel. If you can safely find a way to see other resorts and if we’re blessed with good snow this year, it could be a really great WFA (Work From Anywhere) time to go stay with your uncle in Vermont or your brother’s friend’s cousin’s dog groomer who hasn’t seen anyone but the dogs since March in Utah. Just spitballing here. Paul, see ya soon bud.
• A lot of resorts are already planning on taking huge safety precautions like seating only household members on the chairlift, prioritizing pass holders, and eliminating walk-up ticket purchases. No more meeting randos from Alaska on the lift but more time to bond with your partner whom you force-taught how to mountain so they can hang out with you in the winter. Or, ya know, silence is golden.
• The lodge scene looks very different so your tater tots and hot toddies might have to be consumed outside in the cold or your car, i.e. you can rack up extra danger-ops GNAR points with tots to go and first chair brekky. Or make use of end-of-day traffic by waiting it out with parking lot après. The blind eye turning is real, wink wink.

I hope you’re as stoked and hopeful as me about the season ahead! Stay safe out there.

 

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3 comments

  • Leo stevenson says...

    Was up in Tahoe a few days ago and the mountain had big flashing sign that said:

    “YOUR CAR IS YOUR LODGE”

    On December 29, 2020
  • Dominika says...

    It’s an excellent pre guide. However, local authorities have issued several directives advising non-essential, leisure travels should be avoided, as state-wide stay-at-home order has been issued since ICUs around the states have been filled up quickly. Although counties sheriffs have stated those orders will not be enforced with punishments, authorities are still calling people to be considerable. Travel Is Discouraged, at least till the end of the year.

    On December 29, 2020
  • Bonnie Powell says...

    Great post! Fingers crossed we get to have a ski season. But please don’t forget Bear Valley — the best-kept skiing secret int he Sierra. It’s just 3-3.5 hours from the Bay Area, rarely any traffic, Hwy 4 almost never closes, and it’s a great mountain for beginners and intermediates, with enough advanced terrain (especially when the lower mountain is open) to keep almost everyone happy. Lift tickets are so much cheaper than Tahoe.

    On October 20, 2020

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